an almost remembered spasm
Place is security, space is freedom: we are attached to one and long for the other. There is no place like home. What is home? (Tuan 2001/1977: 3)
Long periods of living indoors are transforming my relationship with this flat, an environment that now seems simultaneously over-familiar and strange. This proximate strangeness has precipitated a questioning of my relationship with “home.” Is the living space where I sit and write at this present moment an extension of personal and inter-personal actions and desires or simply a functional container for them? Martin Heidegger (1971) has theorized the home as an emergent manifestation of the lives and actions of those who inhabit it, proposing a reciprocal relationship between dwelling and building and conceptualizing “home” as a social process. Building upon these ideas and those of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Tim Ingold has offered a “dwelling perspective” from which to consider the perception of environment and through which “the forms of building arise as a kind of crystallization of human activity within an environment” (Ingold 2000: 186). After Suzanne Blier, Ingold’s “home” is proposed as a living organism, built or, rather, generated through “the very process of dwelling” (Ingold 2000: 188). As such, home emerges as a generative space that both houses subjective behaviors and traits and reproduces them from one generation to the next, as children, through their immersion in the home, “come to carry the forms of dwelling in their bodies – in specific skills, sensitivities and dispositions” (Ingold 2000: 186). Through inter-generational dwelling, individual behaviors, strategies, and tendencies are performed, shared, and reproduced, with such activity manifesting and materializing in the home as an environment that is perpetually being built. Here in this home, such inter-generational dwelling looms as an invisible, emergent presence, an “atmosphere” (Böhme 2000) that can be accessed through acts of listening.
in the morning I get up first
easing into sound
moving extremely carefully
I do not disturb
like a pianist skating a quiet melody, placing these feet so gently
knowing the instrument of the hall floor in exceptional detail
knowing its sounding capacities and how it responds to my feet
in the hall and through the kitchen
I coax the machine sounds of the house into existence – operating heating, lighting, digital tech, kettle, toilet with care
tending volume cautiously
aural attentiveness translates as the degree of apprehension in my gait
I know when one of the children opens a single eye in the dark
this tiny event heard by the body multiplies this space instantly
My home sounds as both a confined and a permeable space, one that is filled with sound and that emits sound: the sounds of bodies, of structures and materials, of domestic technologies and media, of the street seeping in through the walls and ground – a porous space designed to close out sound, to filter it. Brandon LaBelle has traced the emergence of middle-class domestic spaces in the twentieth century with an emphasis on sonic experience, proposing home as an image of comfort, a place to “seek refuge […] from the uncontrollable flows of noise and the harangue of the exterior” (LaBelle 2010: 51). Indeed, I am conscious of seeking to use this living space to control sound. Living and working here during the pandemic, I usually try to get up and work (read, write, listen, type) very early, but this is only possible if I am so quiet that everyone else can continue sleeping. 5am is something to aim for, and beginning a day alone in quiet makes it possible to attend to the day as it opens and unfolds. An early start means I can listen in to the day as an emerging and accumulating vibration. This is also a way of exercising control or of seeking control when things are out of control: a method of self-situating and orientating in relation to what is and what may come. Alone each morning, I center my dwelling perspective before the needs, desires and perspectives of others become audible in the space. As my partner and children awaken, they start to stir, coincide, and interact in the shared environment. The sociality of home life sounds as a simultaneity of desires and agencies that cannot be fully known but may be heard as they are enacted. To attend to, understand, and participate across this nexus is to begin to hear, guide, and be guided by the ways in which this home is changing.
The attempt to orientate myself alone in the early mornings by establishing a “dwelling perspective” that prefigures those of my family risks manifesting a kind of assumed social dominance or authority over the domestic domain. The need to feel orientated – particularly while under specific pressures (for example, the pandemic and lockdown, related concerns for my children, associated financial and job insecurity) – and the habit of waking up first in order to be alone may lead to a kind of patriarchal dominating of this space. The dominance of one person’s perspective and orientation over others in a shared space may force the prioritization of one “disposition” and set of needs in such a way as to produce social dynamics of insularity, resentment, or self-denial. Sara Ahmed has proposed a queering of one’s own positional “orientation,” as a way to reconsider the embodied, social processes of experiencing and making spaces, domestic spaces in particular. If orientation refers not to a fixed positioning, but to the way a person “tends toward” available objects (Ahmed 2006: 51), then the question of what a subject is orientated by and toward becomes an issue both of perception and of environmental affordance and access: “Or we could say that some spaces extend certain bodies and simply do not leave room for others” (Ahmed 2006: 11).
The people and behaviors and habits and objects within this home afford possible trajectories, or routes of orientation. As Ahmed clarifies, a concept of “orientation” implies a notion of direction and therefore one of “straightness” (Ahmed 2006: 16). Orientation as a tending toward the familiar may lead to an emphasis on and pressure to remain “in line” with prescribed, normative tendencies, behaviors, identities, or orientations relating to, for example, sexuality, gender, or race. Just as the home can be a site of dwelling – as reciprocal, embodied intimacy with a lived environment – it can also be a site of tensions, pressures, and oppressions, as homes may constitute normative impressions of prior orientations, making space for certain possible bodies while excluding others. The question of who is afforded agency in a given space becomes a question of the environment’s role in shaping a body’s sense of orientation and deviation, familiarity and otherness, normativity and resistance. Playing with one’s own orientation(s) along with others and filling spaces with a diversity of perspectives and things becomes a necessary life practice, towards a queering of dominant lines of orientation both within and beyond the home.
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they are misbehaving because they are bored
boredom has a sound
listlessness has a rhythm
bored is a word that protects a place unfit to inspire
rather than confronting ‘boredom’
a curiosity, a queering, a détournement is needed
an intra-action with and through which we may reorientate ourselves toward possibility
we need to make some time together
to continue in our shared learning of techniques of reorientation
to introduce, and notice together, the other things within reach
such careful exchange, grounded in listening
becomes a tiny engine
for enacting possible place
Conceived of as a living organism that grows and is built by the emerging, embodied, relational, dwelling perspectives within it, it seems responsible and necessary to consider what kind of home I am building with my partner and children, especially during the enforced confinement of lockdown. What capacities are being nourished, reinforced, and reproduced, and what normative pressures and tensions are manifested in and through this shared living space? How are my body and those of my cohabitants orientating themselves and each other, how are they being orientated, and how does such an experience of co-habitation manifest and materialize as the home we continue to build each day? What sounds do we each introduce into the home, and how and when and why do we keep silent and leave space for other sounds and agencies? What methods and practices may help to move beyond simply attempting to sound a “harmonious” environment and towards sounding and enacting a space that admits a diversity of perspectives and tensions, affords multiple agencies simultaneously, and makes, values, and protects spaces for individuals to be alone?